Fostering rescued dogs is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Actually, it might be at the top of the list. It checks pretty much all of the fulfillment boxes for me. I really really really really really really love dogs. It’s charitable. I’m helping lost, innocent animals that can’t help themselves. I’m helping families find a furry friend to love for years. It even gives Lucy a buddy to play with. And let’s be honest, it gives me another floof to snuggle. I mean, come on…it’s pretty great. Yes, it has also involved lots of vet visits, poop in my house, deworming medicine, surgeries and cones of shame, pee in my car, throwing my back out trying to get squirmy, nervous dogs into the bathtub…but I don’t even care. Even thinking back on the gross things fills me with giddy joy. I imagine that this is what being a parent feels like.
I only fostered for a short time, last year. I started in November of 2014 and had three dogs come and go until we had to stop because we were moving. I miss it SO MUCH. We are living in a rental on Vancouver Island, so I was worried fostering wouldn’t be an option. We have this crazy huge yard, like ¾ of an acre. It’s perfect. Lucy loves ripping around back there; chasing squirrels, eating rabbit poop, pouncing on garter snakes, and spying on the neighbor’s dogs.
Turns out we also have super cool landlords who said we could foster. They even came over and patched up the fence to make it more dog secure (Lucy had found her way out twice!) So, several months ago I applied to a couple of rescues on the Island. And I’ve been waiting, waiting…and not had any luck. I’ve started to prod one of them and have finally gotten a response but they are so busy they haven’t been able to screen me. Hopefully it happens soon.
While I wait, ever so patiently, let’s look back on the dogs I had last year. They were all so different and challenging in their own ways, and I think about them all often.
I volunteered to foster with hart (humane animal rescue team). I chose them because I like that they do home visits when screening applicants. It takes a lot of time and resources but ultimately it’s about finding a good fit for the people and dogs and I think it’s worth it. hart was a great choice. They are a wonderful group of people with good processes and support systems in place. Fostering through them is one of the things I really miss.
Shortly after I had been screened to foster, I got the call that they had a potential dog for us. Her name was Faline. I already knew who she was, because she had been with hart for several months already, and she had recently escaped another home and had been missing for a few days – finally found with her leash tangled in a tree. I had followed the whole thing on facebook. Thinking I was up for a challenge, I instantly said yes. And a challenge she was.
We had to meet slowly to work up to the transfer. Kaelin and I went to her current foster home (who had to take a break from fostering because of some life stuff happening). We didn’t touch her, but sat in the living room and chatted with her foster mom about her history and her many quirks. She had been rescued with her brother when they were just a couple months old. Live trapped; their mom nowhere to be found. They clearly had little to no experience with people, and were extremely fearful. They were also were bonded, so they were kept together for the first little while. They were named Bambi and Faline, because they looked like adorable little fawns.
They were eventually separated because they were too dependent on each other, and not warming up to people. I believe Faline was moved to a few different foster homes because of various issues. She had a tough start to life. I was excited to get to know her, so I tried to get closer to her in that first meeting. She darted away while pooping. This was some major fear.
We met a second time when Faline’s foster mom brought her over to our place. This time I kept my distance and tried to remain calm. Lucy, however, was having none of that. She tried to encourage Faline to play right away. Although she didn’t play, Faline was OK with Lucy and found a spot by the window where she felt safe. They left shortly after that, but I think that’s when we all agreed that this could work.
The next time we saw Faline, her foster mom dropped her off, and left quickly and without fuss. I imagine that was tough. Faline was a bit stunned, but when she realized she was staying for awhile, she retreated to her spot by the window and stayed there. If we got too close, there was darting and pooping. We had to ignore her, move slowly, feed her where she was, and get out of the way when we opened the back door so she could feel safe enough to run outside without pooping along the way. This was like nothing I had ever experienced. I felt like I was in over my head, and Kaelin wasn’t too impressed with this new adventure I had gotten us into. (Knowing what I do now about dog training, I would have done several things differently. More on that another time.)
I was, however, determined to make it work. I don’t think we could have done it without Lucy. She was interested but patient. She pushed Faline to come out of her shell the way we could not have. That first day, they played a bit. Over the first 24 hours, we were slowly able to get closer to Faline, and she took a cookie from me. But we couldn’t touch her, or the dart-and-poop would happen. I think it was day 3 when I finally pet her. And after a week, she started to get excited to see me, and even do the little play hops like she wanted me to play with her. She gave me kisses and it melted my heart! She and Lucy were already the best of friends. Kaelin, however, was still suspicious to her. It probably took a month before they were OK – but then they were wonderful.
She had the same reaction every time she met someone new. We learned to teach people to completely ignore her, not make eye contact, make themselves small and let her approach when she was ready. The first time she snuck up on my sister and sniffed her was really cool. We had a lot of advice from hart and a trainer came over to give me some tips. When I brought her to hart or the vet for check-ups, they commented on how much she seemed to trust me. It really was an incredible feeling, like nothing I’d ever experienced. Faline and I were both learning and growing, together. I got really, really attached. I think Lucy did too.
After several months, we had an adoption inquiry. It was exciting – we had been working so hard to get her to this point. But it was also really hard. I had to think about her moving on. I focused on making sure I was thorough and honest with the adoption process. We took it really slowly, had several meetings, and a number of trial walks and short visits. The woman who was interested in Faline (Leslie) was SO patient and kind. It felt like a perfect fit.
Dropping her off for the final time, seeing her watch us drive away from the window of her new home…yeah. Really hard. The emptiness and quietness of the house when we got back home. Wondering if Lucy was missing her. Finding one of her favorite toys that had fallen behind the couch. Even though we only had her for a few months, we grieved.
There is a bittersweet ending to this story, let’s not leave it there! Lucy and I saw Faline (now renamed Leila) a few times after the adoption. We met up at a hart reunion in the summer. I wasn’t sure what to expect but the reunion was a special one. I saw Leslie and Faline from a distance. They were talking to the family who had adopted Faline’s brother, Bambi. The dogs didn’t seem to remember each other. They sat nervously side by side. Then she saw us. And just when I thought this dog couldn’t melt my heart any more…I realized that she had gotten attached to me, too.
I think I had a pretty amazing first foster. She was hard. Really hard. But clearly, the hard stuff is the good stuff.